Earlier this week, Peter Maroney was announced as the new president and general manager of sister channels 2 and 31 -- the successor to the controversial Dennis Leonard, who stressed in a statement that he jumped instead of being pushed.
Maroney, who most recently held similar positions at WTVR in Richmond, Virginia, subsequently arrived in Denver, and after meeting with the staffs at both outlets, he's full of enthusiasm for his new gig. "I certainly didn't see a lot of big egos," he says. "I saw people who had a lot of heart, and who went out of their way to welcome me. I felt very comfortable, and I'm excited about the opportunity."
When asked about potential changes at the stations, Maroney defers for the most part, noting that "it's very early" in his tenure. But he makes it clear he's not in love with the decision to rebrand Channel 2 as The Deuce (a slang term for an oversized turd) or focus almost exclusively on appealing to a younger demographic.
Whereas many general managers come from a sales background, Maroney migrated to the executive suite from the newsroom. "This is the seventh market I've worked at, and two-thirds of that has been in news -- and half of the news time was in management," he notes. "If anything, I spent a lot longer producing television and making television than I think a lot of people in my position do, because I loved it so much. I probably postponed my management track for five or six years because of that."
After graduating from the University of Houston as a journalism major circa the '60s, Maroney got a gig at Houston's KHOU -- "Dan Rather's alma mater," he points out. He started as a photographer, then moved into reporting, serving as a "one-man band" who both videotaped and delivered his stories. And that's not all. "I did editorials for a while," he points out. "I was only 21-years old, but I was doing editorials."
From there, Maroney headed to Portland Oregon, where he wound up as the managing editor of KGW, an NBC affiliate whose alums include John Stossel. There, he says, "I got my first taste of doing documentaries," which became a passion he was able to continue at WCCO in Minneapolis, where he headed up the public affairs/documentary unit. Then, after a period running an independent production company, he took charge of the investigative reporting unit at WBZ in Boston. Next, he became the news director at KPIX in San Francisco before heading back to Portland, where he filled the same role at KOIN, a CBS affiliate. He eventually rose to the general manager position, but was replaced when the station was sold. He landed in WTVR in Richmond, which last year was purchased by Local TV LLC, the company that owns channels 2 and 31.
He emphasizes that he didn't campaign for the move to Denver, even though he was familiar with the area; as a young man, he was a member of the Air Force stationed at Lowry. Moreover, he's careful not to criticize Leonard.
"I certainly give him credit, because he had to do a lot of the heavy lifting," Maroney says. "It wasn't an easy job to consolidate these stations and put HD on the air all at the same time. But I've been asked to be a different kind of leader at the stations."
His description of his mission?
"Local TV looks at properties like the ones in Denver and says, 'We're doing fine with sales, and it's a really healthy market -- but we could do so much better if we could take the content to the next level,'" Maroney allows. "So I'm going to help building the content side: local programming, news."
As its name implies, "Local TV really believes in localism," he continues. "That's what we do best -- local programs. And now we have the bandwidth capacity to do even more local programming. I don't even look at TV stations as just TV stations anymore. I look at them as media platforms, and we have a really big media platform here with a former Fox O&O in KDVR ["O&O" means "owned and operated," in this case by Fox prior to its sale to Local TV] and a legacy station in KWGN."
This reference to Channel 2 by its venerable call letters rather than as The Deuce is no coincidence.
"There has been a lot of experimentation and a lot of change here, and some of it has been very good, and some of it has been questioned," he says. "My instinct and, I guess, my experience is that when you have a brand as good as KWGN -- a superstation -- well, there's a lot of value in that, and any kind of change should be given a lot of thought. And I don't know how much thought went into it, but I don't think a lot of research went into it.
"I'm a real believer in asking people what they think. What I want to do is to meet people inside the building and outside the building who have a sense of what these stations have been over the years and then do some formal research to find out what are our strengths and weaknesses and what they want to see and how they regard KWGN and Fox 31. And my guess is that we'll look on the legacy of KWGN as having a lot more value than we may have given it when we made that branding change. So you'll probably see a return to that brand. We're going to be using KWGN's call letters a lot more, and when we refer to the website now, it's KWGN.com. And you'll also see us reach back to connect with the roots of that brand."
Does that mean a stop to the hyping of Channel 2 as a youth-oriented station?
"We're not going to abandon the attempt to find younger audiences," he says. "But we want to help them gain an appreciation for what we do, which is news and local programming. And I don't think you have to abandon the longstanding value of a brand to do that. I just don't think that always needs to happen. Maybe it was a mistake to do this, and maybe it wasn't; we're going to find out. There are methodical ways to do that, and we will do that kind of self-examination inside the building. And I can't wait to talk to our advertisers. They certainly have a dog in this fight, and I want to know what they think about how we represent ourselves and how we brand ourselves, too."
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What about the KWGN staff? Are they at all shell-shocked because of all the shifts they've gone through over the past couple of years?
"I think they're all survivors," Maroney says. "I had a great conversation with the KWGN morning team. I just went over and sat amongst their cubicles and we talked for about a half-hour about how difficult the transition was. They had to not only leave behind everything they'd known, but they also had to say goodbye to a lot of colleagues. That's the nature of the business today, with the way fractionalism is impacting the economics of TV. But even though they said it was difficult at first being uprooted the way they were, they've totally adjusted now and see all the people they've joined at KDVR as colleagues. They've made new friendships and new working relationships. So I think all of that is actually working well, and it has been for some time now -- maybe five or six months.
"And there's a great management team in place here. I don't know how much teamwork there's been in the past year -- what I like to call collaborative decision-making. But that's how I see my role. I'm a team builder, a facilitator, and I loved what I saw when I met with the department heads. It's a very smart group of people who really want to win, and I'm certainly glad to join them."